Toyota Research Institute Introduces Its Latest Home Robot Innovations
Denrie Caila Perez posted on October 09, 2020 |
The TRI is adding two new home robots to its roster.
TRI’s ceiling-mounted home robot. Photo courtesy of TRI.
TRI’s ceiling-mounted home robot. Photo courtesy of TRI.
Lately, The Toyota Research Institute (TRI) has been focusing on developing home robots as part of its long-term initiative. The company has come a long way since Toyota announced its $1 billion investment to establish TRI five years ago. TRI recently presented some of the research it has been working on via virtual reality (VR), preloading the press recording onto a VR headset that was shipped to journalists. The 40-minute presentation is also available in 360° video on YouTube for anyone who wants to check it out. Greeting the viewers is Gill Pratt, who kicks off the event. However, the main stars of the video are the two hardware robots that the company is hoping will be in households around the world in the near future.

Soft Bubble Gripper

TRI’s soft bubble gripper robot. Photo courtesy of TRI.
TRI’s soft bubble gripper robot. Photo courtesy of TRI.
TRI’s bubble gripper robot was under development at the company’s Cambridge, Mass. facility. These air-filled grippers allow for safer handling, making it easy to grab and grip various kinds of objects. The robot is also equipped with cameras inside that monitor dot patterns on the soft membrane whenever it’s holding something.

When the outside of the bubble is in contact with an object, the bubble inside deforms. When it does, the dot pattern also deforms, which allows the camera to identify the direction and magnitude of the force exerted. This technique has been applied in other technology, but TRI’s version definitely uses the technique to its advantage in making manipulation tasks safer.

The device was initially presented at ICRA this year. The technical paper is available here.

Ceiling-Mounted Home Robot

TRI’s ceiling-mounted home robot in action. Photo courtesy of TRI.

TRI’s ceiling-mounted home robot in action. Photo courtesy of TRI.

While most robots are usually maneuvering on floors or mobile bases, this TRI robot is instead positioned from above. Compared to existing home robots, this can be a bit tricky to install since there are certain things you will need in your ceiling in order to successfully mount it. TRI explains how this system would work:

“One innovative concept is a ‘gantry robot‘ that would descend from an overhead framework to perform tasks such as loading the dishwasher, wiping surfaces, and clearing clutter. By traveling on the ceiling, the robot avoids the problems of navigating household floor clutter and navigating cramped spaces. When not in use, the robot would tuck itself up out of the way. To further investigate this idea, the team has built a laboratory prototype robot that can do all the same tasks as a floor-based mobile robot but with the innovative overhead mobility system.”

While perhaps a tad challenging to integrate into homes, the device is definitely useful. Payloads can be transferred to the ceiling—no stairs needed, and no obstacles to work around or bump into. Batteries are also obsolete, making the robot lighter and safer. And because it has 360-degree rotation, the robot’s sensors also have an excellent view of their environment.

Time Machine” Robots

TRI is slowly working toward its vision of the future of robotics, and these two new additions to the company’s roster are definitely a milestone. Pratt expressed TRI’s optimism in an interview saying, “What we’re really focused on is this principle idea of amplifying, rather than replacing, human beings. And what it means to amplify a person, particularly as they’re aging—what we’re really trying to do is build a time machine. This may sound fanciful, and of course we can’t build a real time machine, but maybe we can build robotic assistants to make our lives as we age seem as if we are actually using a time machine.”

He added, “It means building technology that enables us to continue to live and to work and to relate to each other as if we were younger. And that’s really what our main goal is.”

For more news and stories, check out this dog-like scanning robot here.

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